MUNICH, (AP) – Vice President Joe Biden was there along with a senior Iranian official — and at first glance, that’s about all that can be said for the first public opportunity to make good on President Barack Obama’s proffered hand to Tehran.
Negative feelings at the Munich Security Conference seemed to outweigh the Obama administration’s recent positive messages on when — or if — eye-to-eye talks with Iran could begin.
The United States, while opening the possibility of direct talks, has not relented on its demands that Tehran resolve international concerns over its nuclear program and its alleged support of terrorists.
At the conference in Germany, the two sides have shown they are still mistrustful after decades of enmity since the seizure of the American Embassy and U.S. hostage crisis during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said America had much to apologize for before his country could consider sitting down at the table. He accused Washington of causing untold human suffering through decades of failed U.S. policies on Israel, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.
The next day, at which Biden was the featured speaker, Larijani was conspicuously absent.
Biden repeated Obama’s offer of talks and rewards, but sternly warned that unless Iran showed willingness to compromise “there will be (further) pressure and isolation.”
American allies at the meeting also piled on Iran.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tehran of stricter U.N. Security Council sanctions if it rejects a U.S. overture; French President Nicholas Sarkozy urged Russia to join the West in seeking harsher U.N penalties if necessary; and British Foreign Secretary David Millibrand told the Islamic Republic that the U.S. offer “is not going to get any better,” while urging continued pressure.
But there were a few positive signs that Obama’s offer was not made in vain.
Larijani at one point spoke of a “golden opportunity for the United States” — suggesting that if Washington went far enough in conciliatory signals Tehran could respond in kind. And he said several times that the U.S. needed to change “to a chess game instead of a boxing match,” indicating that Iran would be receptive to more subtle U.S. negotiating tactics.
A European official said Larijani held a private meeting Saturday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and appeared interested in the U.S offer to talk.
The official, who demanded anonymity in exchange for sharing confidential information with The Associated Press, said Larijani “kept talking about the unacceptability of the ‘carrot and the stick'” — suggesting Iran was looking for a more finely tuned approach from the West than offers of blandishments coupled with threats.
That appears to jibe with Obama’s approach: direct official dialogue and the appointment of a special envoy to deal with Iran after years of isolation under the Bush administration — an “unclenched fist” that could turn into an offered hand.